FLAGSTAFF, AZ — Hundreds of Flagstaff parents are calling for their school district to open the classroom doors, despite moving in the opposite direction from the needed benchmarks.
A group of 500 parents sent a letter to Flagstaff Unified School District Administrators, pleading for a return to in-person learning along with a letter of parent testimonials about how their children are struggling with online learning.
"Try to get them to follow county and state guidelines to open in a hybrid capacity, then we can go forward from there," said Brielle Kennington, a parent in Flagstaff. "My friend’s son was pulling his hair out in spots during his Zoom classes. And that was in September."
The letter, sent by Alford Law PLLC in Flagstaff, argues that students in the Flagstaff Unified School District are at an educational disadvantage to other students in the state who are learning in the classroom.
"Their concern is that their children are being permanently harmed by missing out on valuable in-person learning while other school districts in the State have been open for in-person learning," reads the letter.
"These parents demand a detailed explanation of why FUSD have gone against state guidelines in the past, and a clear explanation about their intentions going forward. Will FUSD continue to encroach upon constitutional rights going forward, or will they agree, in no uncertain terms, to follow the State Guidelines for hybrid re-opening of FUSD schools?"
Arizona is a "local control state," meaning that individual school district governing boards can make their own decision about returning to in-person learning versus going remote. FUSD has begun the third quarter of the school year in virtual learning.
Flagstaff Unified responded to ABC15 about receiving the letter with the following statement:
"The Flagstaff Unified School District has received a copy of the letter from Alford Law, and will continue to make decisions regarding a return to in-person learning based on health metrics to ensure the safety of students, families, team members. and the community. FUSD has adopted health benchmarks for the return to school, and unfortunately, the numbers in our community continue to rise far beyond these thresholds.
The Governing Board and District administration are closely monitoring the situation and reviews benchmarks and other health information received from State and County sources every month at their meetings. The goal in all these meetings is to plan for a reopening for in-person learning once it is safe to do so. So far, case trends have not indicated that reopening is safe.
Lastly, FUSD is fortunate that we have been able to navigate remote learning because of the support of the Flagstaff community. Each and every student receives an iPad as part of our community supported bond and override and over 800 hotspots have been issued to support remote learning - helping provide equitable access to educational resources. We could not have supported remote learning without this generous community support."
The Arizona Department of Health Services, based on the community spread of COVID-19, recommends schools in every Arizona county teach virtually. Thursday during a radio interview with our news partners KTAR News. "Governor Doug Ducey is calling for parents to take action in favor of returning to in-person learning.
"The safest place for children to be is in school. I’m following public health," said Governor Ducey, contrary to the recommendation of the state's public health department. "Parents need to put pressure on the district."
The comments were made on "The Mike Broomhead Show" on KTAR.
"Ducey’s encouraging, with his comment, a war that’s already been escalating between parents and schools, parents and educators. It’s a war we don’t need," said Derek Born, Flagstaff Education Association President, and 10th-grade teacher at Coconino High School.
Arizona State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, who has been openly critical of Governor Ducey's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, released the following statement in response to his comments on KTAR:
"The Governor's words this week were disheartening and not helpful to our school communities. While we both agree that the best place for children to learn is in a classroom, ADHS benchmarks currently recommend virtual/distance learning for all fifteen counties. I urge every Arizonan to double down on their mitigation efforts and get vaccinated as soon as they can do so. Reducing the virus's community spread is the safest way to get our students and teachers back in the classroom.”